A 1989 description of immigrant raids and state xenophobia in the UK from the communist newsletter, The Red Menace.
At dawn on Wednesday 18th January 1989 police sledgehammered their way into the Church of the Ascension in Manchester and arrested Viraj Mendis. Viraj had spent two years in sanctuary attempting to avoid being deported; 48 hours after his arrest he had been expelled from Britain, put on a plane to Sri Lanka and an uncertain future.
From the publicity this case received you might think that all this was an unusual occurrence - in fact last year 700 people were deported from the UK. The only difference was that a campaign had made Viraj Mendis virtually into a household name and won him considerable support, as was shown by the fact that 2000 people marched to Manchester police station on the night of his arrest.
Viraj’s deportation does however signal the start of a further acceleration in the harassment of “immigrants” in Britain. Having made an example of Viraj - himself an anti-deportation activist - thousands of others now face being dragged from their beds and put on planes to the other side of the world. For some this could mean a return to arrest, torture and death in “their’ native country; for the “lucky’ ones the psychological torture of being forcibly separated from their friends, family and chosen home.
'GO OUT AND WHACK THEM'
Those waiting for the knock on the door include Kabul Khan, camping in a Birmingham mosque with his family after escaping from immigration officials who want to deport him to Pakistan. They include the 50 or so people hiding in a network of safe-houses run by the “Underground Railway” of helpers. They include 8000 would-be refugees waiting in Britain and up to 250,000 people labelled by the State as ‘illegal immigrants’. According to a source within the Immigration service: “Everything had to wait until Mendis was out of the country.Now the word is to go out and whack them. It is going fo be like Mendis - snatched and deported within 48 hours.” (The Observer, 22/1/89). Anyone harbouring ‘illegals’ could face 6 months in jail or a £2,000 fine.
The Immigration authorities share computer records with the police, and their job is obviously being made much easier by the general increase in State surveillance and information gathering. For instance, the Poll Tax registration process will give the State a comprehensive list of exactly who lives at what address. Benefit claimants have to produce ID at Social Security offices if they or any members of their family have come to live in the UK in the past 5 years Immigration offices have unlimited powers of detention without trial, and those not immediately deported may be kept in detention centres such as Harmondsworth (near Heathrow) and Latchmere House in Richmond (where detainees are locked in their cells for 18 out of 24 hours).
A CLIMATE OF FEAR
The immigration crackdown is calculated to create a climate of fear amongst those without the correct passport. Workingon the fringe of the economy in sweatshops, building sites etc. run by both black and white bosses, people know that to draw attention to themselves would only invite further trouble. Complain too loudly and deportation is only a phone-call away.
Immigration controls in general are used in an attempt to isolate black people from the rest of the working class. Controls define immigrants as a ‘problem’ which needs to be‘regulated”, and in Britain and elsewhere ‘immigrant” is used to mean ‘black”, and all black people are treated as immigrants.By encouraging racism our rulers hope to stop the struggles of one section of our class (e.g. the inner city riots where young black people played a leading role) from spreading to the rest of us.
Furthermore by accusing immigrants of “swamping Britain (as Thatcher did in 1979), or of being “a burden on the welfare state” they hope to reinforce a British national identity along with a loyalist working class who believe they share a common interest with their exploiters in defence of national culture and the national economy. This is the old myth of us all being in the same boat.
All of this is not due simply to ‘nasty TorIes’. Labour governments have acted in exactly the same way, rushing through the 1968 immigration Act, for instance, to keep Kenyan Asians out of the country. It’s the same story too in the rest of the world - witness the treatment of Turkish workers in West Germany, or North Africans in France, where a ‘Communist’ Party-controlled local council sent in bulldozers to destroy immigrants’ hostels. In Western Europe as a whole there are moves towards a common immigration policy for all countries, leading up to the erection of a Fortress Europe in 1992 that will be more difficult than ever to enter from outside.
FOR A WORLD WITHOUT FRONTIERS!
The State cynically distinguishes between genuine political refugees with a ‘well-founded fear of persecution” and illegal immigrants who have entered the country for economic or other reasons. This division between “worthy” and “unworthy” immigrants (or claimants, or AIDS victims...) has to be rejected outright. It is only in this twisted world, where humanity is imprisoned by the frontiers of nation-States, that somebody could be called upon to justify making their home on one part of the planet rather than another.
In deporting Viraj Mendis the State has demonstrated that it means business. Against the naked power of sledgehammers and dawn raids, prayers and petitions will be worse than useless. Instead we need to begin discussing ways of organising our own counter-power of collective resistance.